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Great TV Cliches of the Past: A Room at the Y [May. 16th, 2007|10:59 pm]



Great TV Cliches of the Past: A Room at the Y

Recently I tuned in to an episode of I Love Lucy on TV Land, lured in by the false promise of a Mertz-centric episode. I'm not generally amused by Lucy, but if Fred's gonna be grunting his way through more one scene, lobbing insults at Ethel and sharing snide sexist remarks with Ricky, well, I'm gonna be there.

Unfortunately, the description in my TV listings, something like "The Mertzes have marital problems," wasn't exactly complete. Nor was it distinctive, either, of course; that kind of summary for this show is like describing a Honeymooners plot as "Norton irritates Ralph." Still, I hoped for more of those Not-so-Mirthful Mertzes than I got, and when Lucy butted her head into it early on, it became a Lucy and Ethel episode, as Ricky and Fred were pushed to the margins. Yawn.

However, one aspect of this show resonated with me. It was the early revelation that after his latest fight with Ethel, Fred had moved out and "was staying at the Y." This is one of the classic television conventions that needs to come back: characters spending a night or two at the YMCA while things cool down on the homefront.

OK. Get it out of your system now. Laugh it up. YMCA. Yep, I said it. Yep, Fred actually stayed there. Yes, characters in TV shows used to get rooms there all the time. Take a minute. Play the song. Get the image in your head. Seriously. Didn't forget the policeman, did you?

All right. Now stop snickering. We all know Fred Mertz was hetero even for the 1950s, possibly the most hetero decade of all time. Sure, he may have donned a hula skirt in the skit his Navy crew put on for the top brass, and he may have put a little rouge on to highlight the long curls and flowery dress he donned in his vaudeville days. But who DIDN'T?

No offense intended, but we need to, for lack of a better word, de-gay the concept of the YMCA. It's nearly impossible now because that infernal song is so catchy, but the fact is, there is a lot more to the YMCA than the, er, activities to which the Village People referred. Unfortunately, because that dubious classic is now firmly ingrained in the public consciousness, and will stay there as long as there continue to be basketball games and wedding receptions, we have lost a perfectly good sitcom plot device.

I always liked the idea of a man being so unable to communicate with his wife that instead of sitting down and talking something through, he packs a suitcase and heads for the local athletic club. It was not the most desirable course of action, but seemingly it was one of the only bits of leverage a harried sitcom hubby carried. Even when he didn't actually go there, the option was an implied threat. After all, if wifey was gonna continue to be unreasonable and insist that, say, her mother-in-law WAS staying here, and that's final, well, the man of the house could always go to the Y, and you know how embarrassing THAT would be.

Not to mention it would presumably be scary, boring, or otherwise disastrous for the poor lady of the house. If she didn't buckle under when the threat was announced, well, by golly, surely she would when she was cooped up in that empty house for a day or two.

At least, that's how the man saw it. The fact that it's an idiotic premise all around is what makes it so funny. Of course, when this happens to Lucy, she pretty much acts like a blithering idiot and confirms the idea that she is hopeless without a man around, but try to forget that for a second.

No sitcom writer could get away with having his lead character, or anyone of consequence, declare he was heading to the YMCA, unless there was an acknowledgment of the gay angle. I don't even know if you CAN stay overnight at the Y just because you had a fight with your spouse, but my ignorance is all the more reason to make it a plot point. I wouldn't bother to fact-check. I'd just enjoy the tried-and-true humor of the concept. It would be too much of a distraction nowadays, though, and that's a significant loss to the already-declining world of television situation comedy.